Although there was a horse in front of him at the last flight, there was never really any doubt that Inglis Drever would win his unprecedented third World Hurdle and thus mark his onliness among long-distance runners. The tide of emotion that swept off the stands as he and rider Denis O'Regan laid down their challenge to the French raider Kasbah Bliss would have carried him to victory, even without his indefatigable heart.
The little gelding duly stuck his neck out and his head down in his trademark style, and prevailed by a length to claim his place in Turf history. And there to meet him at the top of the run-in was his equally resilient stable lass Ginni Wright. He has recovered from a damaged leg, she from breast cancer; both love life and their jobs.
Wright's pride and pleasure in the horse she loves were almost tangible as she led him back in front of the crowd that was howling its approval, tears pouring down her face. Strong men wept, too. It was a proper Cheltenham moment.
The staying hurdle division was once rather the poor relation among the Festival championships, but Inglis Drever, who regained his title 12 months ago after a year out to nurse his injury, has changed all that. His courage, class and talent have added lustre to the iron-man title that is now so firmly his.
"I have never ridden a tougher horse," said O'Regan, "or one with such a will to win. His style of running sometimes frightens me – he'll hit a bit of a flat spot – but I've learnt not to panic, because he knows what he's doing and where he is. Going to the last, he just took off with me and absolutely winged it, and landed running, and did the rest himself."
Trainer Howard Johnson's faith in his horse and other powers proved thoroughly justified. "I went to church this morning," he said. "The horse is nine now, and there are probably not many races left in him. But getting him here to win again was probably one of the greatest training performances of my life."
There had been talk of retirement for Inglis Drever. "I did get a request from the Tipperary branch of the Inglis Drever Fan Club asking us not to," said his owner, Graham Wylie. "But the horse will tell us if and when he's ready to stop."
Wylie, a computer entrepreneur, has spent millions on his hobby, and spoke for his fellow owners David Johnson, Clive Smith, J P McManus, Trevor Hemmings and the rest when he said: "This is why we do it. You can't put any price on a moment like this."
Johnson and Hemmings had theirs, too, yesterday. Johnson's long-serving Our Vic, so often the nearly horse, went one better under Timmy Murphy than last year in the Ryanair Chase, staying on stoutly in first-time blinkers to repel Irish challenger Mossbank by five lengths.
The David Pipe-trained 10-year-old's attitude has in the past been called into question, and he has earned the dread Timeform squiggle. "If he's ungenuine," Johnson said, "I wouldn't mind some more ungenuine ones."
Hemmings scored in the first two races, most notably with Albertas Run in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, the premier contest for staying novices. It removed something of a monkey from Tony McCoy's back; it was the 12-times champion's first success since his well-documented tunnel-vision return to action after a fall two months ago, and he was given a suitable reception.
On the Tony McCoy scale of emotion, very much flatter than most, a broad smile and a punch of the air – both evident as he came into the winner's enclosure – is a seismic reaction verging on a shift of the San Andreas fault. But afterwards the Ulsterman, his drawn face once again shut down, rather shrugged off the well-wishers. He is not exactly ungracious, just thoroughly focused, professional and realistic. "Winning any race here is great," he said. "But it's what I'm supposed to do, with all these good horses I get to ride."
McCoy still has two plates and four screws in two of his thoracic vertebrae. "I consider myself fortunate to be here at all," he added. "I might have been in a cast, or a wheelchair."
Typically, McCoy was self-critical of his handling of the 4-1 favourite, who gave trainer Jonjo O'Neill his first win of the week. "I went to the front too soon," he said, "but he was jumping and travelling well and he's a horse who doesn't like to be disappointed."
World Hurdle result
1 Inglis Drever (D O'Regan) 11-8 fav
2 Kasbah Bliss (C Pieux) 9-1
3 Kazal (B Geraghty) 12-1
Won by 1 length, 7 lengths
Winner trained: J H Johnson
Owned: Graham WylieReuse content